Obama touts new patient protections in health-care reform

Several patients' rights provisions of the new health-care reform law go into effect Thursday. President Obama is still working to sell the American public on the merits of the reforms.

By , Staff writer

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    President Barack Obama speaks in the backyard of a private residence in Falls Church, Va., on Sept. 22, to discuss the Patient's Bill of Rights and health care reform.

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Six months ago Thursday, President Obama signed landmark health-care reform – and he’s still trying to sell it.

Much of the public was skeptical of the reform in March, and remains so now. Many Republicans are campaigning on a pledge to repeal it. The more immediate threat, while Mr. Obama and his veto pen are still in the Oval Office, is to defund implementation. Twenty states are suing in federal court to have the reform declared unconstitutional.

To counter all the negative publicity, and try to win converts to the reform, Obama and other top administration officials spent Wednesday touting the patients’ rights features going into effect Thursday.

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They are “the most important patients’ bill of rights that we’ve ever seen in our history,” Obama said Wednesday at a “backyard discussion” in Falls Church, Va., which included average people who will benefit from the reforms.

The new provisions apply to plan years that begin on or after Sept. 23:

  • Insurance companies are barred from dropping clients who become ill.
  • Family plans may cover adult children up to age 26.
  • Insurers are barred from denying coverage to children up to age 19 because of preexisting conditions.
  • New plans are required to cover preventive care, such as mammograms and colonoscopies, with any copays or deductibles.
  • Lifetime caps on coverage are eliminated, and annual caps begin to phase out.

Taken separately, all these features are popular. But opponents of so-called “Obama-care” have pounded away at the individual mandate to carry coverage (the subject of the lawsuits) and various fears: that people will be forced to change doctors, that the cost of health-care premiums will skyrocket, and that the cost of reform will burden the federal government with higher deficits and debt.

Obama maintains that none of those concerns will come to pass. Over the long term, he said at the Falls Church event, premiums will be lower than they would be otherwise, because of the preventive care features of the reform.

“Health care costs overall are going to be lower than they would be otherwise,” Obama continued. “And that means, by the way, that the deficit is going to be lower than it would be otherwise.”

The president then cited an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that found that, as a result of the Affordable Care Act, the deficit will be more than a trillion dollars lower over the next 20 years than if the law had not passed.

On Wednesday, the White House also unveiled a new website, www.WhiteHouse.gov/HealthReform, which explains the new law and contains the stories of Americans from all 50 states who are benefiting from it.

The big White House push on the six-month anniversary of enactment reflects a tacit acknowledgment that the Obama administration has lost the public relations war over health-care reform. Further evidence comes in the campaigns of Democrats around the country, few of whom are touting health-care reform in their stump speeches. Administration officials are hopeful that, over time, people will see a positive impact from the reform and that opposition will die down.

But with unemployment stubbornly high, Americans are not in much of a mood to see positives in Obama’s support for health-care reform. In fact, at a time when the economy and jobs remain the No. 1 concern of voters, talk of health-care reform seems almost off-message. But as the biggest piece of legislation passed in an eventful first two years in office, Obama is loath to back away from it.

Republicans are happy to pile on, highlighting press coverage that focuses on health insurance rate hikes around the country, in part because of the reforms.

"It seems the more Americans say they want Democrats to stop what they're doing and focus on jobs and the economy, the more determined they are to press ahead with their various liberal agenda items while they've still got the chance," Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said in a statement.

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